While kendo is an inherently violent sport–after all it’s basically the Japanese version of fencing–the general perception is that it’s more about calm, carefully-coordinated attacks than all-out aggression. In fact, kendo very strictly adheres to etiquette and respect, with competitors generally expected to act with the utmost sportsmanship.

Unless you happen to be a cop.

While the Japanese police may have a complicated reputation, one thing that is certain is that they’re no slouches in the physical department. All Japanese police officers practice either judo or kendo (Japanese only), with special units learning additional martial arts. (For a fascinating account of a foreigner’s experience taking the Tokyo Riot Police’s year-long aikido course, be sure to check out Angry White Pyjamas.)

Even knowing how tough their police are, many Japanese Internet users were shocked by the below video of a kendo match at the 2012 National Japanese Police Kendo Championship.

In the video, you can clearly see that the person dressed in white is utterly dominating the match. However this cop’s actions show a completely disregard for respect or etiquette, pushing the opponent and stabbing at the throat whenever possible. If you’ve never seen kendo before, here’s a video of the final match at the 2011 National Japanese Kendo Championship. It’s a bit long, so if you don’t have time to watch it, we’ll just point out that while the basic technique is the same, the brutal aggression is nowhere to be seen.

Netizens’ shock stems from a few things. The first is obviously the behavior of the winning competitor. The second is that these are police officers! Japanese people generally think of the police as being very respectful and polite, so this probably seems very out-of-character to Japanese people.

The final shocking aspect is that the judges did nothing to stop it, meaning that this behavior was completely acceptable!

Before we go on, we should point out that neither of the competitors in video are regular police officers—in fact they’re among the most elite in the National Police Agency. They’re actually part of the Imperial Guards, the police tasked with protecting the Emperor and Empress of Japan, as well as their family members and the palace grounds.

With that information in mind, the ferocity of the match makes a lot more sense. These are police officers that you would expect to be hardcore and maybe just a little crazy. Uh, we mean that in the best way possible! Please don’t hurt us.

Internet commenters were divided on the video.

Those who were disturbed by it had this to say.

Police kendo is scaaaaaaaary!
It’s just a death match in armor.
Is this sports or martial arts?
It feels as if this were neither kendo nor fencing, but just straight up attacking to kill.
Was the point to actually hurt the opponent? That’s just not right.

On the other hand, many commenters found the video perfectly acceptable.

The one getting pushed around is the bad one here. Too weak!
Aside from the bit around 32 seconds in [when the competitor in black is on his knees, and the competitor in white rains strikes down on him], which seemed a bit questionable, everything was normal.
The only thing was when he stabbed the guy after he was down. That’s not okay.
The pushing was fine, but that stabbing twice wasn’t any good.

Another commenter suggested this: “Kendo as performed by police whose real opponents are criminals is different from normal kendo. This kind of ferocity is necessary.”

While we certainly aren’t kendo experts, we have to say that this one match completely changed our perspective on the sport. And definitely convinced us never to even walk by the palace the wrong way!
[ Read in Japanese ]